Thursday, May 28, 2009

Fun Day

I know everyone is really, really tired of my vacation posts. But I took all these dang pictures and I'm going to post them (dang it)!!

This was a rest day and there were some fun activities scheduled. First we rode about in hour to take a camel ride into the desert. This was another of the things I was looking forward to doing before we went on the trip. Here are some pictures along the way:

The camel ride was very fun. It was a bit scary at first. The camels are laying down when you get on them. They then raise up on their back legs and so you are leaning way forward until they raise their front legs. They were a bit taller than I expected. I got the giggles at the first part of the ride. It was really fun. We went out for a while into the dessert. Then we 'parked' the camels and walked around a bit on the sand dunes. Then, of course, our guides wiped out some souvenirs from nowhere. Thanks goodness someone bought something so they'd take us back!

Mike's poor camel was puny and not very excited about riding some tourist into the desert!

"And that was the last they saw of the seven tourists...."

Ok, that is the last picture for this post. After lunch we met back at our hotel for our next adventure. We rode four wheelers on sand dunes behind the hotel. Mike and Christian (tour guide) actually rode dirt bikes. This was so so fun. We had a guide that we followed around. It was a bit of a slow start. Many of us got stuck and the poor guide had to help them out. I'm very proud to say that I was the only one that did not get stuck!! All those big tough motorcycle riders couldn't hang with me. It was fantastic fun riding the ATVs on the sand. You'd just whip them around the the back end would break loose. I could have done that all day. I had to tell Jens (tour guide) that I was behind him and he was holding me up. I was hell on four wheels!! Very fun day!!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Another Day, Another Gorge

Today we head for Erfoud. On this day, Mike decided that he knew where he was going so we left out before the group. However, we didn't know where we were going after all. We realized, after not too long, that we were going in the opposite direction. We'd worked out a meeting point with the rest of the group. Instead of being the first to arrive at the meeting place, we were the last to arrive. Couldn't think of any good excuses, so just came clean with the whole 'lost' story.

We met at the entrance to the Gorge du Todra. The landscape was very similar to the Gorge du Dades that we rode through yesterday. This was a short riding day with no scheduled lunch. So, after our coffee break, Mike and I rode on and explored the Gorge. We rode and rode and rode. After we got out of the canyon area, there was very little traffic and we rode along a nice winding peaceful road. We came to a 'T' in the road in a little village. We were trying to decide if we should turn back or try and make a long loop around to Erfoud. A local kid came up to the bike while we were debating. He was very nice, I gave him some crackers and cookies. In the end, we decided to turn around.

Thousands and thousands of palm trees in the valley leading into the Gorge. Loved it!

Sheep were everywhere!!

This was the scenery we saw on the long road leading out of the Gorge.

We came upon a camel herd on the road to Erfoud. We stopped to take a picture. The camel herder (I guess that's what'd you call him) came running after me so I booked it back to the bike and we took off. He probably wanted me to pay him for the picture.

We weren't with the group, but Jens, one of our tour guides, had told us to stop at some wells along the road, that it was pretty neat. There were tons of vendors set up along the wells and we picked one that looked good. It was called Place of Relaxation. These were old irrigation wells and they were built in rows. The wells were linked underground to each other. To prove this, one of the guys went down one well and came up at another. Just to prove that he wasn't a twin, I wrote my name on his hand so he could prove it was the same person. Turns out that the group had stopped there too because also written on his hand was Edelweiss.

After his little gopher trick, we set under their tent and, of course, had mint tea. The tent was tended to by three brothers. They spoke really good English. They said they'd learned from talking to tourist. I was impressed! They told us a little about their lives. They would go into the village to use the Internet! I really enjoyed our visit with them. They were very very nice.

Can you see all of the wells??

The well demonstration is about to begin!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Gorges du Dades

Scenes on the route to the Gorges du Dades. I just couldn't get enough of the contrasting landscapes. You've got the dry, arid mountainside but the valley is lush and green.

I don't think you can see it really well in this picture, but the rocks are formed in such a way that it looks like a brain. Thus, this area is called the Brian of the Atlas.

You can see it better in this picture.

This was the road that led to the restaurant where we had lunch. This was the neatest road on the trip. The restaurant was on a ledge overlooking the road.

This is the restaurant.

This is an example of a Moroccan bathroom. This is actually a very nice Moroccan bathroom. Yes ladies, this is the ladies bathroom, not the men's. On top of there being no toilet, there is no toilet paper. On this particular day, I had to go sooo bad. It was a workout doing all that squatting. I had to take a break and stand up and then squat some more. Some bathrooms were so tight that you had to press yourself against the back wall to get the door shut. Furthermore, some had ceilings that were so low that I could stand up, but if you were an inch taller than me, you had to stoop.

After lunch, we rode down into the gorge...

After that, it was off to the hotel. This was a very nice hotel...quite an upgrade from the hotel the previous night.

This was our waiter at the hotel that night. We wants me to send him this picture. I need to do that next week.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Next Stop: Ourzazate

Today we rode through the Atlas Mountains. The views should have been spectacular. However, on this particular day, it was very, very foggy. You could barely see in front of you. We had to go very slow. That could very well have been the worst fog we'd ridden through. We did finally make it to the top of the pass (Tizi n Tichka Pass).

After we rode over the pass, the fog seemed to clear and we were able to get better views of the scenery. The landscape was dry and desert like and there were only a few villages around.

We took a narrow side road that took us into the valley of Oued Imarene. This was a fun road to ride on.

Where we were the landscape was very dry and arid but in the distance you could see snow capped mountains. I thought the contrasting landscapes were very pretty.

I love this picture...there was a random white horse on the side of the road.

We stopped along this road and had lunch under a berber tent. This was a very neat place to have lunch. The tour must stop here all the time because the owner was very glad to see Christian. He gave him a kiss on each cheek. Christian was thrilled!! The lunch was the Moroccan usual...tagine.

After lunch, some in the group took a tour of a nearby kasbah. While they did that, Mike and I rode a little farther down the road. We went until the road turned to dirt. The road was also very rocky. Some of the local kids helped us move some rocks out of the way so we could get turned around.

After our lunch, we made our way to Ouarzazate. We made one more detour along the way. We turned off of the main road and headed toward Ait Benhaddou. It all of a sudden got extremely windy. You could really feel it pushing the bike around. It was a bit scary. At that time, I thought it was one of the windiest conditions we'd ever ridden in. Later in our trip, however, was definitely the windiest we'd ever ridden in.

Ait Benhaddou has an unbelievable labyrinth of hundreds of houses and towers. One old Berber castle grows out of another. This village has been featured in movies such as Sodom and Gomorrah and Indiana Jones. It was still crazy windy when we got there and the sand would sting your face it was so windy. To get to the village, you had to cross a river and the water was up enough that you really needed to ride a horse across. We decided to just take a picture from a distance.

The hotel we stayed at this night was the worst one of the trip. The tour guides warned us that it wasn't very nice. They said they'd complained to the home office but the reservations had already been made. In our room, our shower head was no longer attached to the wall and was sitting in the tub. So, to wash your hair, you had to hold the shower head up, then put it down to shampoo up, then hold it up to rinse. You get the drift. It was a bit of a challenging shower.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Marrakech Medina

This day was a rest day and we visited the medina. We were showed around by a tour guide, Mohammad. He was a very nice guy and he was very open to answering any questions we had about his religion and life in Morocco.

Introducing Mohammed!

The medina definitely requires a tour guide to find your way around and not get lost. It is made up of such narrow, winding alleys. The medina is full of shops were the locals are selling all kinds of products (textiles, metal works, wood carvings, leather, carpets, etc). Random pictures from the medina...

That looks sanitary!!

We really don't know what the sign says, but we decided that it must be a public shower.

The vendors are very aggressive in Marrakech. As you walk by, they ask you to come in and look around, and they don't ask just once. Then, if you show any interest at all, it is impossible to leave without being rude. Additionally, nothing has a price. So, you have to bargain for every purchase. Which, I don't mind doing at say a yard sale, but I didn't really feel comfortable bargaining for a product that I had no clue as to the true value.

The tour guide must have a bit of a kickback thing going on with some of the vendors because we stopped at a few of the bigger shops. We stopped at a 'pharmacy'. It was a pharmacy that uses natural products. It was supposedly what the locals use to cure their ills. The 'pharmacist' told us all about the products (from spices for cooking to lotions and medical herbs). Then of course, you could purchase any of the products for a small fee.

Here are the dumb gullible tourists...they'll buy anything!!

The next major stop was to a rug shop. Before we went, Mike and I decided that our big purchase would be a rug. We get to this place and they sit you down and serve you mint tea. God, that stuff is disgusting but you feel that you have to drink it so as not to be rude. Then, this flunky starts unfolding all these rugs and displaying them while someone tells you in what area of the country the rug was made. After unfolding a zillion rugs, the flunky holds each one up again and if anyone is interested in that rug (or a similar one), speak up and you are whisked away to look at more rugs.

Mike and I were interested in a rug and this was our first experience with the bargaining process. It was a back and forth process that involved writing your offer down on a piece of paper and passing it back and forth. We did finally come to an agreement and I'm sure we got ripped off. But it's all about the memory right??

Jens, our tour guide, on the 'flying carpet'. Jens was always ready for a silly picture.

The focal point of the medina is the Place Djemaa el-Fna, a huge square in the old city. Other than the many vendor shops, this is where everything happens. We saw a snake charmer here and this was one of the things that we wanted to check off our list. One of the guys put a snake around Mike's neck (this was an unsolicited request). I took their picture and then of course the guy wanted to be paid for the picture. We respectfully declined.

Mike was a wee bit of a baby about the non-poisonous snake around his neck.

At night rows of open-air food stalls are set up in the Place Djemaa el-Fna and mouth-watering smells fill the air. As you wonder around checking everything out, all the food vendors come up to you with their menus and want you to eat at their stall.

Group dinner

Overlooking the plaza at night.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Marrakech Express

Marrakech is the final destination for the day but on the way we go through Casablanca. It is the biggest port in North Africa. However, it is nothing like the movie depicts it to be. In actuality, the movie wasn't even filmed in Casablanca. It is really not a very pretty city at all. We did however stop in Casablanca to visit the new Hassan II mosque.
The mosque was built overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and was opened in 1993 on the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad. It is the 3rd largest mosque in the world. More than 100,000 people can pray at the same time at the mosque (20,000 inside and 80,000 worshippers outside on a special platform). It is the only mosque in the country that permits visitors.

We took the tour and it really was breathtaking. The detail that went into making the mosque was amazing. This was one of my favorite memories of the trip. Here are some pictures of the interior...

The women pray in the balcony and the men pray on the main floor.

This was my favorite room in the mosque. It was full of fountains that the men use to do their ritual bathing before praying. All the fountains looked like little mushrooms.

There's Bill in the background. He seems to always find his way into pictures of Mike and me.

This was an example of a public bath. It was in the mosque but was not actually used.

Yes, there was a Harley dealership in Casablanca!! We stopped there then had lunch. It was a delicious lunch. There was nothing else interesting the entire day. We had to take the highway into Marrakech. It was hot as heck on the ride down the highway and we were glad to make it to the hotel.